Tennessee program allowing inmates to get time off for birth control rescinded by judge

CBS Newspath

WHITE COUNTY, Tenn. — A White County judge has rescinded a measure allowing inmates to receive time off their sentence if they agree to take an educational course and undergo a birth control procedure.

Participation was voluntary, but Judge Sam Benningfield shut it down after the health department reportedly told the court they would pull its free services if action wasn’t taken, CBS News reported.

“I did not change my mind,” he said in a text message. “The health department succumbed to the pressure and withdrew their offer of services. I had nothing to offer so rescinded the order. I bet they didn’t tell [you] that part.”

When questioned by the news organization, the health department initially denied the allegation, but eventually admitted they talked to the judge.

They said they “let him know we would not be able to provide services consistent with his previous order.” The spokesperson said “doing so would raise concerns about influences on personal choice and patients’ ability to provide informed consent.”

Opponents criticized the measure that was issued back in May saying it was unconstitutional and a form of government coercion.

“Such a choice violates the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity by interfering with the intimate decision of whether and when to have a child, imposing an intrusive medical procedure on individuals who are not in a position to reject it,” the ACLU said in a statement obtained by WTVF.

However, supporters noted the birth control procedures are not permanent and can be reversed.

Judge Benningfield said it was simply an option for those repeat drug offenders who get out and struggle with both the burden of finding a job while raising a family.

“I hope to encourage them to take personal responsibility and give them a chance,” he said. “This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves.”